Wednesday, 17 June 2009

World Economic Forum and the New Global Economy

The World Economic Forum in Cape Town last week brought together the public, private and non-governmental sector, as well as media and commentators on Africa.

Despite the recession, the overall feeling was upbeat. Most conversations were framed within the current economic circumstances, but if I took one message away it was “Africa can do it, but we need less planning and more doing”.

Another theme was that the talent and capability exists already, the resources and the will. Africa needs to celebrate its success stories, to change international perceptions of the continent as a place to invest, as a destination of choice. But it’s easy to be positive in a room of 700 people who all feel the same way. My question is whether Africa believes in itself when faced with international pressure, when confronted with China or Brazil making its demands, or when trying to find a voice at the global negotiations table on climate change, for example.

I do also sometimes wonder what we would all talk about if there wasn’t a global financial crisis on. And what would be the trigger to inject investment into Africa’s infrastructure and tourism business if the continent had not won the opportunity to stage the FIFA 2010 World Cup finals. But while we do have both crisis and opportunity right here and now, there are some interesting discussions.

If you are a Twitter follower, check out #africa09 for a summary of things coming out.
Zaprio’s cartoon posted to Twitter -

A quick summary of some of the sessions I attended follow...

Africa and the New Global Economy

  • Jacob Zuma, President of South Africa: The global economic crisis is being felt all over. Africa has its own way of response. Its own problems too, but we must do our best in the spirit of belief in a recovery. All economies become inward looking during a crisis, but we must avoid shutting others out.
  • Kofi Annan, Co-Chair of WEF on Africa: We are facing a crisis of governance and a crisis of leadership, and need to restore it. Africa needs to be part of the solution by seeking to invest in infrastructure, education, health. We can’t ignore the needs of the poor, or any system we set up won’t last long.
  • Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, MD, World Bank: There is a short-term response, but also an opportunity for long-term development. To quote Hilary Clinton: “Don’t waste a good crisis.” We need to think about shape of the continent post-crisis, working things like climate change in to our solution. China has expressed an interest in Africa – are we crafting our own response or simply waiting for it to happen?
  • Soud Ba’alawy, Executive chairman, Dubai Group: There is a misperception of Africa as high risk, it is a good investment destination. Africa needs to develop its own home-grown solution, using its resources, its young population, and to create an environment conducive for business.

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